When GM Bob Gainey went after power forwards such as Brendan Shanahan and Jason Arnott but failed, he may have felt pressured to make a move in order to please fans who expected the Canadiens to dip into the free agent market. Ultimately, Gainey signed winger Sergei Samsonov to a 2-year $3.525 million contract. Considering the situation, and looking back on it now, signing Samsonov may be seen as somewhat of a desperation move.
However, at the time it seemed like a perfect fit. Samsonov would compliment a Russian contingent on the team that includes Andrei Markov, Alex Kovalev, and players Alexander Perezhogin (Kazakhstan) and Andrei Kostitsyn (Belarus) who hold a similar cultural background. Also, being that Samsonov is a left-wing with a right shot, it looked as if he would be a great winger to compliment Kovalev who plays the right side but has a left shot.
In hindsight, it’s safe to say that it was a horrible signing and the team should have simply gone with another prospect instead. It is doubtful that any one could have foreseen just how low Samsonov’s offensive production would be. Still, the signing will go down as one of Gainey’s worst moves as General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens. Lucky for Gainey, he has been able to pull off plenty more good moves than bad.
Gainey went about fixing the problem yesterday when he placed Samsonov on waivers after Samsonov and his agent, Neil Abbot, expressed their desire for a change of scenery. There have been numerous rumors regarding Samsonov after he failed to produce with the team. Gainey likely did all he could to find a decent return for the winger, but his contract, which still has a year left on it, doesn’t make moving the Russian winger very easy for Gainey.
Placing Samsonov on waivers would have been beneficial in a couple of ways. For one, it would give any team in the league to give him what he wanted: a change of scenery. Secondly, it would have freed up cap room not one for the remainder of this season, but for next season as well. With the trade deadline approaching, Gainey could have used the cap room to acquire another player to help with the playoff push.
Nevertheless, Samsonov cleared waivers and remains a Montreal Canadiens’ player for the time being. Seeing as not a single team was willing to pick up Samsonov and his $3.5 million tab shows Samsonov that there is little chance of Gainey moving him.
Earlier in the season, Coach Guy Carbonneau wanted to demote Samsonov to the forth line in attempt to send a wake up call to the slumping player. When Samsonov learned of the demotion, he made his feelings public by addressing the media about his discontent. He went on to say that he didn’t sign in Montreal to be a 4th line winger, and that he came here to be a go-to guy.
Don’t expect these kinds of reactions from the player now though. Seeing as there really isn’t anywhere for Samsonov to go, besides Hamilton, he’ll simply have to live with the decisions of the coach and keep working at finding his game and earning the ice-time he desires.
It’s hard enough to play in a city like Montreal with all the media scrutiny, and even harder when you’re not playing up to expectations. The situation with Samsonov and his agent may have easily been blown out of proportion, but the team cannot let it become a distraction. Thus far, Samsonov has conducted himself professionally and should begin to focus on preparing himself for game action soon as it will only be a matter of time before Carbonneau calls on him to play.
Notes: In 52 games with the Habs, Samsonov has only 7 goals and 15 assists for 22 points as well as an even plus/minus rating. The winger also has 6 PIMS.
Other Options: Upon gaining clearance from waivers, the Montreal Canadiens can send Samsonov to their AHL team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, at any time over the next month without having to clear waivers again. Moving Samsonov to the minors would be advantageous because doing so means that his salary would not count against the salary cap and in turn gives Gainey some flexibility to bring in a player for the playoffs. The Habs can also place Samsonov on re-entry waivers that would allow any team to claim him at only half of the cost of his contract both this season and next. This is not a favorable option as it would limit Montreal’s spending room for next season by over $1.76 million.